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Tories hope to use Rochdale candidate's comments as tool to bash Labour with

One problem over for Labour, and another one potentially brewing.

Labour were perhaps hoping to draw a line under the political turmoil in Rochdale last night after they suspended their candidate pending an investigation.

The former Labour Rochdale candidate, Azhar Ali, was caught at a meeting allegedly saying Israel allowed the Hamas attacks to justify invading Gaza. He swiftly apologised, saying his claims had been "deeply offensive, ignorant, and false".

But it was only later, when further antisemitic comments emerged in a leaked recording to the Daily Mail, when Labour withdrew support for Mr Ali.

Today a former Labour leader, Neil Kinnock, said the party's leadership had sometimes lacked political "savvy" with its handling of recent crises, including the Rochdale by-election.

And then today more bad news for Labour - another candidate, for the seat of Hyndburn, was caught at the same meeting referring repeatedly to "f***ing Israel".

He also reportedy said that UK citizens who volunteer to fight for the Israeli Defence Forces "should be locked up" and that it was "illegal" for them to fight for Israel.

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Sky News understands he has also been suspended pending an investigation, but these two suspensions in short succession brings the issue of antisemitism back into the fore for Labour.

Last year, almost to the day, Sir Keir Starmer announced the party had been lifted out of "special measures" by the equalities watchdog, showing the progress the party had made in tackling antisemitism within the party.

They will be displeased if there's any perception the party has started to backslide. The Labour leader said today that any other allegations of antisemitism within the party would be investigated.

Meanwhile, on the left of the party, all eyes are on how these investigations are going. They point to inconsistencies they see between left-wing MPs and candidates they see as within Keir Starmer's "faction".

They point to two examples.

Kate Osamor was suspended pending an investigation after saying Gaza should be remembered as genocide, in a post about Holocaust Memorial Day. She was suspended pending an investigation.

There's also the investigation into Diane Abbott, which is still ongoing a year after her original comments and apology.

Read more:
Rochdale by-election: Why Labour can't replace Azhar Ali - and what happens if he wins
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Mish Rahman, a member of Labour's National Executive Committee and on the left of the party, said: "It was obvious that the position the party held over the weekend was untenable.

"But instead they raised these electoral technicalities to defend their position. It makes their zero tolerance policy weak. Zero tolerance for some and conditional for those in the leadership faction."

The director of Labour Together, Josh Simons, said it wasn't about factions at all but instead fixing a party "that was antisemitic and broken" and that "what Keir Starmer has once again decided to do is actually sacrifice having a candidate in this by-election to make sure that that mission continues to executed with an uncompromising ruthless and clear minded fashion."

Whatever happens in this by-election, it's clear the Conservatives are hoping to use this incident as a tool to bash Labour with and are already seizing on this with both hands.